On today’s episode, Kunle is joined by Nirav Sheth, Founder & CEO of Anatta, an eCommerce agency that partners with DTC brands with a focus on UX design, research, and optimization to maximize a brand’s growth potential.
Nirav Sheth sees Anatta as anti-agency. While agencies provide the only people needed by a company, Anatta goes all-out by providing their whole team. While other agencies may not know it but billing by hours sometimes shifts the focus of the agency from providing quality service to mere revenue.
Anatta works with top brands like Athletic Greens, Rothy’s, True Botanicals, M.Gemi, and a lot more. The secret to the success of Anatta is no secret at all – quality consumer experience. Anatta’s work on the flow of the design and speed of a brand’s website is just a foretaste of what else they could help with a brand.
It’s an insightful episode as you’d hear Kunle and Nirav talk more about different points of growth potential using design, the efficiency, and effectivity of storytelling and authenticity in marketing a brand and understanding human psychology in relation to UX design planning and creation.
Here is a summary of some of the most important points made:
On this episode, Kunle and Nirav discuss:
Q: What’s been your most meaningful business relationship in the last five years?
A: There are two relationships, one with Mack Weldon, and the second with a company called Team Launch. Both are such successful partnerships because of our relationship with the CEOs and also the larger team mission. Everything is aligned and we love working with them.
Q: Are you a morning person?
A: I am. I also have a son so he wakes me up every day at 5:30 in the morning whether I want to or not.
Q: What does the rest of your morning routine look like?
A: I start with a little bit of a light meditation when I can get it and that’s there. I’ll have my coffee. I’m a big espresso person and a coffee snob because I’ve learned how to make a proper shot of espresso. That’s my big thing and if I can get a croissant to go along with it.
Q: Are you into sports?
A: I love playing sports. I love playing team-based sports when I can. I got back from a guy’s weekend with sixteen guys and all we did was play soccer, volleyball, and basketball altogether. I love playing sports. I’m not a big watcher of sports besides one sport, baseball.
Q: What’s your favorite team?
A: The Phillies.
Q: What two things you can’t live without?
A: One being my family, they mean so much to me, and I need them around in my life and who they are. Also, tagging along with that is the community. I thrive in communities and friendships. Both family and community all of tying into that ability to be around people.
Q: What book are you currently reading or listening to?
A: The book that I’m currently reading is Rick Rubin’s book on creativity. That’s on my shelf and I’m reading chapters of it every day.
Q: What’s been your best mistake to date, by that, I mean a setback that’s given you the biggest feedback?
A: I would say is employees that I’ve retained for too long. It’s not just one mistake but it’s hundreds of ones. Over the last 15 years, I’ve hired probably close to 300 people. When I’ve known that it isn’t right for us and the employee has known that it’s not right for them to not cut ways and that same goes with clients as well. When you know it’s time, you know it’s time. Being able to say that first versus allowing it to linger. That has created relationships that I wish I could be able to get back or be able to get back into a place where I enjoyed it.
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On this episode, we’re going to learn from an eCommerce growth expert whose agency has supported the astronomical growth of digital-native brands like Athletic Greens, Rothy’s, Dollar Shave Club, and 100-plus D2C brands. It’s a great episode you don’t want to miss.
Welcome to this episode of the 2X eCommerce Podcast. I am Kunle Campbell, your host, and chaperone with the promise to you that when you read any podcast episode we publish, you will take on fresh insights you can deploy as an experiment to grow or 2X aspects of your own eCommerce business. This podcast has been specifically produced to support the growth of your brand through eCommerce as a channel. We do this by either you hear directly from me or through interviews with other eCommerce operators with growth stories or from experts that are part of a remarkable growth story.
Speaking about experts being part of remarkable growth stories, my guest is Nirav Sheth, the CEO and Founder of Anatta, a turnkey user experience, user interface, and tech development agency that provides turnkey digital products teams for middle market eCommerce brands with revenues between $25 million to $500 million. For some context, Anatta’s client list consists of household name consumer brands that are, one, typically digital native, and, two, serious about D2C as a channel. Brands like Athletic Greens, True Botanicals, Dollar Shave Club, Molekule, and Rothy’s.
In this episode, Nirav reveals the secret growth formula of consumer brands in the revenue brackets of $25 million to $500 million his agency caters for. He says that they are founded on three key growth pillars. The first is optimization in the form of CRO or Conversion Rate Optimization, user experience, and user interface design. They’ve mastered the science and art of positioning and targeting audiences and writing. They write a lot more sales copy than their nearest competitors. We also talk about speed, that’s a need for speed, leaky funnels, tech stacks, headless commerce, and landing pages. Without further ado, let’s get started.
Nirav, welcome to the 2X eCommerce podcast.
Thank you so much for having me.
Where are you calling in from?
I’m calling in from Austin, Texas.
I guess the weather is shaping up there.
It’s getting hot.
I can imagine. It’s spring here anyway in the UK. I’ve been doing a lot of research on what you guys do at Anatta. Let’s get back to what Anatta is and a small backstory from you will be terrific to set the context.
I would love that. We see Anatta as truly anti-agency. While there are a lot of agencies in the eCommerce space, there are three things that we did not vibe with when it came to the agency space. We see ourselves as partners to the brands that we work with. Here’s what I mean by that, number one, we don’t use billable hours. We went away from it in 2012, about five years into the company.
What we noticed is that when we were working on billable hours, as a business natively, regardless of how ethically I ran the company, it was much focused that we wanted more revenue. It meant that we had to incur more billable hours. The brands that we worked with wanted efficiency strategy ideas about how to improve without thinking about, “How many hours this is going to take?” Naturally, we were in misalignment when we focused on billable hours.
Number two, we don’t split staff. What we realized is that as an agency and working towards the brands, we ended up focusing on the clients that yelled at us the loudest. It’s typical in the agency world that whichever client yells at you is where you put your focus. Every time you are split and you split staff and say a designer is now going to be on three different projects, no matter how well you execute, 15 hours here, 10 hours here, and another 15 hours here, we only lean towards who yelled at us loudest because we’re trying to shut down the noise.
When we did that, we didn’t ethically and we didn’t properly give the time and attention needed per client and per person that we were working with. The third we saw that hurts in the agency space is when you work in silos and when you work alone. What the client gets to interact with is a single individual and a single project manager that obfuscates the whole interaction. What’s happening? What is the developer working on? What is a designer working on? What’s the team focused on? “We have this project and we’re going to go after it. Let’s talk in two weeks and we’ll deliver something.”
We saw all those things happening and this is us doing these things. For the first five years of Anatta, from 2008 to 2012 roughly, we did all these things, we split staff, we worked hourly, and it didn’t work for the brands that we spoke to. We took one of those harder looks at our company by talking to our clients and saying, “What’s working? What’s not working?” These are the things that kept coming up.
We changed the business model and we said, “As a partner to you and for you to be successful, we have to be in alignment with what you do.” It means that if you are going after profitability, if you are going after gross revenue, and if you’re focusing on retention, let’s be on the same page, and let’s go after the same goals. That means that let’s focus on a flat retainer, meaning you’re paying for a team.
The team is what it is and we’re giving full dedicated staff to you. That means a dedicated designer, a dedicated developer, a project manager, quality assurance, and all of this building a core digital product team that feels like you’re in-house but you’re not having to worry about hiring, churn, and how to keep these people going and feeling effective in their work.
It’s building the level that we become an extension of the team by operating under the transparency of the brand. When the brand is asking us to complete something or we’re on a sprint, we’re showing them everything so that they know exactly what we’re working on. There’s nothing to hide. When you’re dedicated and fully staffed with them, there’s nothing to hide. Be fully transparent and then we become an extension of the team.
I’m seeing this model play out a bit more now in the industry. I interviewed another New York agency owner and they’re leaning more toward your model where it’s a dedicated member of staff that works per accountant. Where focus goes, there’s a potential for growth. For people who don’t know too much about Anatta, you guys are developers, you’re eCommerce product people, or you build out digital products.
It’s not digital products in the traditional sense of things. You want to break down your view on digital products in the context of commerce. You’re exclusively eCommerce and that caught my attention when you’re talking about digital products and then eCommerce. I couldn’t quite put them in the same context. I’d like you to clarify it, please.
Sometimes it is hard to bridge the gap. The best way to explain it is to have a full dedicated team working specifically across your entire D2C channel. The people who are part of the digital product, whether it’s UX researchers, UX and interaction designers, front end and backend, or full-stack engineers, quality assurance, and project management.
All of these things are specifically focused on elevating and optimizing your D2C channels across your Shopify website, how the landing pages work, and the acquisition funnels related to that. The emails, retention strategies, customer portals, and subscription side are all in the full realm of D2C. Because all of that is contained where a traditional company that’s not leveraging all these systems would be building this as a digital product, we would be then harnessing those systems to be able to elevate that and optimize for it.
You’re responsible for the digital customer experience, a digital CX, and the entire stack.
Every touchpoint that the consumer has on the D2C side.
That clarifies a lot. With Athletic Greens, who are still your client, you started out with them in 2017, from a revenue standpoint, at what size were they when they approached yourselves? If my math is right, we’re talking over seven years with yourselves. Over seven years, how have they evolved from the approach to rolling out UX, their approach to deploying their D2C strategy? I’d like to get a glimpse, please.
When they first started with us, they were probably around sub $20 million in revenue. At this stage, without sharing any numbers, they’ve been valued close to what we’ve seen in the market be talked about close to $1 billion in revenue. A big difference between the two. When we first started working with them, they had 1 to 2 core channels that they were activated.
Nowadays we see them on direct TV, we see them on billboards, and we see them on various podcasts including NPR. That wasn’t the case when they first started. It was on Tim Ferris’s podcast. Seth Rogan’s podcast was small at that time. They were activated through specifically the health and wellness vertical. They were focused on health and wellness. There are only 1 or 2 channels with 1 to 2 landing pages.
What a lot of people don’t see and don’t know that Athletic Greens has had is that they’ve had fish oil, vitamin D, and a couple of other supplements. Previously, as we all know now, it was an all-in-one supplement. At that time, they still had a few other products existing during that period of time. As the years have evolved, things have tightened up in terms of messaging and positioning.
As the digital product evolved, what they’ve seen is that they have refined and gotten much better at telling their story from their landing pages to their homepage to their product page. What we’ve also understood is that they don’t need a product page. As we’ve made a singular product experience, there is no longer a product listing page to a product detail page. Everything is sharing one story.
What’s unique about them is that we’ve had to then change those things up to being able to provide offers and understanding each channel and being able to specifically tackle that channel from how we optimize for that and how we optimize for the buying experience so that the consumer buying experience becomes seamless and clear in that way.
From that perspective, we’ve seen a lot of different pivots and changes from the broadening of their positioning, from health and wellness consumers to the larger consumer base overall, and to be able to understand their tech architectures. We made massive changes in their tech architectures from day one to where they are now in terms of what their subscription platform leveraged, what their customer portal experience was, and also being one of the first sites. We launched them in 2018 into the headless space. They’re still headless and running on top of Shopify Plus.
With that setup, from a client perspective, beyond their eCommerce director or whatever role that person is, how many technical personnel or what is the headcount for tech in companies that outsource to agencies like Anatta?
It depends. A lot of companies like Athletic Greens, like Rothy’s that we’ve worked with, like Mack Weldon, and so many others leveraged us as their entire team. That means that they scale. They started off with maybe two people, a designer, and a developer, and then they expand that into a pretty large base. Our heyday with Rothy’s from when we started with them in 2014 to when we wrapped up with them in 2021, we had sixteen people staffed with them full-time. That was inclusive of multiple UX researchers, multiple designers, front-end developers, back-end developers, and some people on the system side, etc.
What we’ve seen on the business front with brands like Athletic Greens, Rothy’s, and others as they’ve scaled is that they continue to bring in more people on the business side to be able to help direct things with marketing and digital product management. Over time, now with Athletic Greens, there’s a new CTO and there are members who’ve gotten into the C-level positions, but we don’t normally see C-level positions pop up until they’re much more into a post-enterprise side of the business.
They’ll focus on marketing, operations, and business strategy while you guys sort out the execution from a technical standpoint and UX standpoint. UX is important. This brings me to my next question. In your opinion, what should brands be cognizant of to grow from an Anatta perspective, from parts in which you are responsible in that growth stack because it’s multifaceted? When they’re focusing on their marketing, on their product launches, on their ops, and on their fulfillment and channel marketing, what do you focus on? What key principles drive the skill these ambitious brands are looking to achieve?
Such a great question and it needs to be asked more times by others. The times they’re spending on business initiatives from all the different marketing calendar items to do launches, the areas that they end up missing out on are the things that are leaking in the funnel. I would start there. What we always try to do right from the beginning is to fix leaky funnels. Leaky funnels mean usability issues and missing best practices in eCommerce.
Think about when eCommerce started back in the early 2000s, it started picking up in the DNVB and D2C sides in the 2011 and 2012 period. We have now over 10 to 20 years of research and data that tells us what are best practices. Today, there are a lot of brands that want to reinvent the eCommerce funnel. They want to reinvent the product listing page, the product detail page, the cart, and the checkout experience. What that means is that you’re breaking best practices. You’re asking the consumer who already has many things in their mind and you’re creating dissonance in them and that will always cause the user to abandon.
There are two companies that we leverage at Anatta and one is Nielsen Norman Group because they’ve been around for so long and have done such fantastic research into the usability space. Another company out of Copenhagen, Denmark called Baymard. They have over 200,000 hours of usability research and we got certified under them early on. I got to meet both founders, Jamie and Christian Holst, early into their careers.
Seeing the research that they put out was fantastic because once we started implementing these best practices, we started seeing conversion rates take a huge escalation. You wouldn’t think by fixing a bunch of leaky funnels that conversion rates would go up but they do every single time. Especially because we’re fixing these small little things, they end up being big things towards usability. I would say starting there is always the most pivotal component.
Two, looking at the tech stack overall and seeing what is preventing marketing teams from excelling. Too many times when the tech gets looked at by pure tech people, they look at efficiencies on what’s going to be the best for deployments, code, what’s going to be reducing code size, and being able to have a more optimized system. Those optimized systems are not always paying attention to what’s best for business objectives.
What that means to us at Anatta has always been what enables the marketing and sales team and customer experience team to do their job so well. If it becomes an enablement tool, we’re winning. We’ve always shied away from taking attribution for all these industry leaders that we’ve gotten a chance to work with and their growth. We were not the people who were doing the marketing and we weren’t the people doing the sales. They’re the ones on the front lines doing the hard work to be able to convince consumers and bring consumers to the site experience.
When they’re on there, what are we doing to help them optimize and make sure that they make it through? That means that if we’re enabling the toolset and enabling the tech stack to allow them to do their job the best, we’re allowing them to pivot, make changes, make updates to positioning, make updates to design, and make updates to collateral in such ways that we can be able to test and try different things out. Enabling tech is such a vast and important capability and making sure that tech is lightweight and simple enough for others to use. I would say those two are important.
The third thing I want to plug in there is being able to optimize for benchmarks and user journeys and understanding what is the industry average for various KPIs that you’re going after. Is it worth it to continue going after those KPIs or is it worth it to move to another KPI because you’re already leading in that space? Sometimes we don’t know where the benchmarks lie. We think we can squeeze more juice out of something that doesn’t have any more juice to squeeze out of and we should pivot to something that does have more juice to come.
Leaky funnels and enabling tech. What are your thoughts on no-code platforms for marketing?
They can be beneficial. It all depends on how it gets leveraged. If there’s a no-code solution that allows for the branding to still be executed well and allows for the positioning to be executed well for the actual consumer buying experience to be thoughtful, I’m all for whatever is the simplest and most effective solution toward getting consumers to have a buying experience that they like and that they can get behind.
The third is KPI decisioning where you are optimizing for a benchmark and you’re evaluating to see if you’ve reached a point of no return or diminishing returns and you’re trying to peak certain KPIs.
As we’re having this conversation, one thing that comes to mind is traditional CRO where a lot of agencies focus on conversion rate optimization and say, “Let’s put together a test team and let’s test everything.” I have such a pet peeve with that because testing everything is not the way to a solution. We got off a pretty large and pretty intensive engagement with Dollar Shave Club, which was one of our industry leaders in subscription-run businesses and one of the biggest acquisitions when they got purchased by Unilever. Not only did we pitch them but what we executed with them was not trying to run a thousand tests.
When we are running a thousand tests, it’s incredibly hard to run a thousand tests at the same time. Once you get into running a team like that, it’s hard to put that many tests together. Two, they even get statistical significance in each one of those tests. When we finally get something, we’re looking for a needle in a haystack. We’re seeing 1 winner out of maybe 30 tests and sometimes 1 out of every 40 tests that are winning.
In this industry, we talked to many agencies about this, we see that winner and we’re like, “We got to win.This was great.” What about the 39 other losers that you used during that same period of time? How much revenue got lost from those 39 losses? Did you end up making more money from that one win? Was that enough? When we think about raising capital and the whole game of venture capital, that whole game is around 1 winner out of 10 or 1 out of 20 still works out because you’re working for 50 or 100X.
That’s not the same when it comes to CRO work. You’re never finding a needle in a haystack that’s moving your conversion rates up by 200% or 300%. What you’re finding are incremental gains and incremental changes. What we look at Anatta and where we’ve seen CRO trend towards and work towards is finding opportunities against these benchmarks and understanding what the value is. Is this a $2 million opportunity? Is this a $5 million opportunity?
As you mentioned, we’ll know from a diminishing return side because if it was a $2 million opportunity and we’ve gotten ourselves to $1 million of that or $1.5 million of that, there’s only another $500,000 left. Do you want to put all your energy behind that $500,000 opportunity or is there another $5 million opportunity that’s sitting for you that even if you make a little dent in that, that’ll make up for how hard you have to work towards that extra $500,000 in the first opportunity?
Benchmarking in the way to do that level of testing makes so much more sense and it’s making you think outside of the box for bigger tests and bigger ideas versus changing the color of a button or changing headline text, which, in our opinion, has not worked to see significant gains or significant moves in the needle.
I like the bits in which you apply value to a two-way project, a test, or a change. Assigning value to it creates or establishes the stakes involved in it. It’s much more tangible to say, “If it’s worth this monetarily, this is the amount of time we can potentially invest in this.” Everything gets reprioritized eventually because you’re trying to optimize based on that. I like that.
From a UX standpoint, you talked about the fact that AG1 transitioned from product listing and product description pages, PDPs, to landing pages because they’ve refined their product offerings over time to this landing page experience. Is this a trend in D2C where it’s becoming more of a product forecast? Is this unique to certain verticals in eCommerce or consumer branding?
It’s a great question. It comes more from a placement of human psychology and where we are starting to lose more and more mind space overall when encompassing a brand. Let me talk a little bit more expansive about that. When we’re showing deep product detail pages or large product listing pages, what we’re asking the consumer to do is make a decision about what they want, where they want, how much they want of it, and what value they’re willing to spend. We’re asking them to do it multiple times.
When we have a brand like Athletic Greens, which is selling one product, which is great, it’s asking the consumer to stay narrowly focused on something. Not every store and not every brand can do that. The majority of the brands that we work with Anatta are not singular brand companies. They can’t have a singular positioning, singular message, and focus on a singular product.
Can you do that for first-time visitors? You’re not going to do that across the entire brand experience. Can you do that when the consumer first comes to the site experience? Can you narrow the window of what you’re offering? That’s the way, from an acquisition standpoint, that you can narrow the focus to leveraging whether it’s a single landing page or a landing page that has 1 or 2 offers being outlined. We started seeing this in the initial stages with brands that started focusing on category pages that had best sellers listed.
You’re narrowing and you’re refining the focus for the consumer to say, “Pay attention here before you go browsing.” If you want the consumer to browse, you are asking a lot from them.You are asking them to figure out what they want. It depends on the acquisition funnel that you brought them in from. If you brought them in from a paid acquisition funnel, do you have that level of trust built with them? Do you have that level of attention built with them that they’re going to do those actions?
Most of the time, the answer is no. You don’t have the trust built in. They clicked over an ad and they are doing some level of discovery. If they don’t like something or they don’t immediately see something that they don’t want, they will abandon and leave. Can you bring them back? Sure. You can do a lot of different things. That’s where these segmented landing pages where you take segments of audiences and gear them towards a certain set of products can work.
That doesn’t mean that they can’t come back and explore the rest of the user journey. Can you segment them in a way where they’re focusing on a narrow navigation path, a narrow set of products that you offer, and a clear messaging to get them to either become a consumer or to at least engage with you in the beginning so that you have the opportunity to expand trust?
When you’ve expanded trust and you’ve expanded that emotional, “I like your products. I like your brand. I like your story.” You can be able to allow them to discover. Allowing them to immediately go discovering is not something that we’ve seen from both our user studies and user testing. We haven’t seen consumers go out exploring and stay on a brand site for long when they haven’t built the level of trust needed.
This trust point is our social proof customers. The product works from other humans leaning on accreditation or pairing yourself up with other trustworthy either personalities, brands, or media platforms. How much would you index into trust? What are the key components you lean on to build trust for first-time customers? What’s the micro conversion you expect for that exchange if you don’t expect it to be a transactional impulse purchase where you’re trying to seed trust and the idea that we are among the top 7 or top five 5 brands you should be thinking of when you’re trying to purchase a particular product in a niche?
I’ll start with the first part of the question, which is around all the different trust factors that need to be leveraged to start building that trust. A lot of times, trust can be built from one simple influencer or one certain person that someone gravitates towards and says, “If that person approves it, I’m in, and I’m good.” Sometimes, it doesn’t require a ton of different outlets but it requires the right one for that segment of audience and that grouping. That’s why it’s important to know where that segment of audience is coming from so you can understand what potential methods could work.
A lot of the things that you mentioned already are super important as seen on so that they could be able to validate that this brand is real and it’s not a fake brand or it’s not trying to steal something from them. Seeing real customer reviews and seeing what those are and those are not cherry-picked but that they could be able to filter and find and go through other reviews to be able to do it.
It has to be authentic. Seeing a name doesn’t work anymore. People need to see photographs and people need to see videos. Those have to feel like their actual real consumer is not made up of specific ones or advertisements being leveraged for that. Being able to then see influencers. In the supplement space, what we’re seeing is accreditation from people who are wellness practitioners or doctors. Those make a massive difference toward the consumer trust capability, especially around supplements. When you see that having an endorsement by a doctor or by somebody that they look up to makes a huge difference.
That is different in the space of fashion. It’s not going to work the same in fashion. In the fashion space, they are looking for specific influencers or specific groups of people wearing or modeling it and that makes a big difference in being seen. Those are all components that will start to build trust in that factor and they need to get one of those components in them. Once they’ve gotten that, then they’re going to navigate through the user experience from there.
At Anatta, you cater to three categories of eCommerce businesses. I love the fact that you focus on eCommerce. According to your website, the first is Emerging, which are businesses that are above the $25 million revenue mark of Athletic Greens when they outreached to you. Growth is above $75 million and then you have Established, which is above $200 million. There are so many nuanced components in growing from each base camp, from Emerging to Growth and Growth to Established.
Before we get into that, I want to ask you a question around landing pages. What comes first? This would cut across all these groups of customers. Do you design with copy in mind first? Do you get a piece of copy for a landing page and say, “We’re going to design around this copy.” Is it iterative? Do you come up with a design concept and then work with a copywriter? What is the build of a landing page? The reason I’m asking this is I want you to speak to sub $20 million brands reading this episode so they can use landing pages as their arsenal to bolster them to that level of $20 million plus. how do you approach landing pages and how many experts are involved in running out a landing page?
Let me start with this. One of the traditional ways that sub $25 million brands but everybody does is they look at other competitor’s sites and they say, “That landing page looks great, we should model off of that.” The reality is you have no idea if that landing page is converting. I do because I have access to the data and I see that but many other brands do not have access to the conversion rate of these landing pages.
The first thing I would say to avoid is this idea that because some other brand is doing it, it’s working. That’s not true at all. Most of the time, it’s not working. They have it up because that’s the only thing they know how to do and they’re doing the same thing, which is they’re looking at their competitors and trying to model off of that. Competitor-based methods of building landing pages are not a smart or effective way to work for yourself.
I would say that as a caveat before I start anything else. It is an iterative process but I don’t want to go into making that the answer because it always starts with great copy and telling things like a story. We still reference great copywriters from Dan Kennedy to the direct response world. When we look at the way that they’ve written copy, it’s still outstanding, it still performs so well, and we believe that copy has to lead when it comes to landing pages and work.
It’s based on, what is the positioning you’re setting out for your brand and the product that you’re looking to sell or the set of products that you’re looking to sell. Position that well and then work on creating a sales letter in the sales process. With that, you can then leverage that with your designer to then create a first version of it. When you create the first draft copy is when you create the first draft wire frame or design of the landing page.
You then start going back and forth until you see some refinement of that into a final evolved version. All this is to say that there are some best practices to leverage when it comes to landing page creation. Whether it’s trust-building factors that you need to include inside of there, whether it’s how you leverage media and specific imagery, whether you’re working with stock images or you’re going to create photo shoots and videos for it.
When you’re using stock, you think, “We just need an image here.” No, you don’t. You need an image that goes along with the copy and the story you’re telling so that it all comes together because all of it is all storytelling and all of it is trying to convince the consumer to purchase something that you’re asking them to purchase. If you’re going to treat it, “I just need an image to be able to buffer the content,” it’s not going to work. You need it to go play well hand in hand and be able to be leveraged to sell to the consumer.
While I always start with copying in our work, we will then go into being able to work with the designer going back and forth with that, and then being able to come up with the requirements for the assets that we need for that page. Whether that’s the videos, the audio, the imagery, and the motion graphics that go along with it, we only add motion graphics, interactions, and elements if it enhances the story. If it’s just enhancing the design, we throw it out the window because it’s not going to help.
People get gimmicks and people do not like them. They want it to go along with the story you’re telling and feel like it’s part of the brand experience. It’s a lot of work but when you do it right, it works. The second component that I’ll say outside of the storytelling, the writing, and all of that side of things is what is the offer you’re presenting to the consumer? What are you asking them is the core set of products that you have but what is the offer that they feel is exclusive towards them?
When we look at the brands that we’ve worked with, whether it’s Four Sigmatic to Athletic Greens to True Botanicals, and so many more, the offer that we present to any of their users who are coming in from specific channels has to feel like it’s a special offer for them and that they’re getting more out of it from there.
Designing an offer is as important as designing the rest of the page experience because it has to feel like an offer. If it’s just a product that you’re selling and it’s the normal price and normal everything, it doesn’t have to be a price fight, it has to be a value proposition. What is the value that you’re delivering in that offer and how do you present that in such a way?
Playing with those buy boxes and what they provide and what they offer is a direct response type of work that if we think about from those times still applies today. All the greatest copywriting tactics that we’ve learned from some of the best copywriters during that time, whether it’s Dan Kennedy or others still work. The reason why they work is that they’re universal in the way that they’re being taught and in the way that it’s being structured.
They speak to our human nature. They are emotive and they understand human psychology. I like that you’ve clarified the fact that it starts with copy, it’s further iterative, and most importantly, you skin it up, you present it in a much more relevant format to 2023 shoppers or browsers. The one question I wanted to ask is if you designed for mobile screens first. How has that evolved and what’s your approach?
We are always starting with mobile-first and that’s because now the dominant audience we see 70% to 80% of site visits happening on mobile devices. If you don’t design for mobile-first, you’re already doing it wrong simply because you’re designing for 20% versus 80%. Designing for mobile first is absolutely essential but also getting all those mobile attributes done right. Mobile usability is key in terms of sizing a button and sizing text. Where do things lie? Not putting too much on the page at the same time.
It’s even a narrower focus in terms of the user journey when you’re dealing with mobile because you don’t have as much space and as much attention. We did this amazing user study with our client, M.Gemi. We showed them their customers on mobile devices versus desktop devices. We use our mobile devices while we’re cooking, while we’re taking care of our babies, while we’re playing a sport while, and while we’re in the bathroom, regardless of where we’re at, we’re on our phones.
What we don’t notice is that we don’t ever have someone’s full attention when we have their phone. They’re always being distracted by something left or right of them and you see that. You see their eye patterns. You see someone talking to their husband or their partner. You see someone trying to take care of the baby at the same time. You see all of this happening while they’re shopping on your site.
Imagine if you have to compete against that, what type of experience do you need to design for in order to at least capture their attention? On the desktop side of things, we saw something completely different. They were so engaged, we saw where their eye patterns were, and their eyes were directly engaged with the page. They were scrolling, they were looking left to right, and they were making movements.
It’s such a different user experience on the desktop because those who are on their desktop are much more focused on our ready-to-read and go-through things whereas people on their phones are not because you’re competing with attention. That’s the biggest challenge with designing for mobile and understanding what you have to do on mobile to keep their attention. We already have less attention span and it’s getting lesser and lesser. What can you do to maximize and keep a singular focus?
With what you do, as much as a lot of it is engineering, another significant part is as you act in UI. How much do analytics and reporting play into what you do?
It always helps us inform hypotheses and ideas that we’re having. We’re not using it exclusively to just collect data for the sake of data but we’re leveraging it to help us gain insights about something that we’re already thinking is happening with the space. Certain KPIs will collect and watch and monitor conversion rates, add-to-cart rates, bounce rates, exits, and click-throughs to the funnel experience. Being able to watch and track various user experiences from the homepage and landing page and scroll rates. Those are all helpful.
Other pieces of data are only being leveraged as secondary or tertiary KPIs to help us justify why we believe something is happening. We are using data analytics as a way to create insights but we’re not using it as pure data forms because conversion rates are one of the metrics and lifetime customer value. Think about how important these metrics have become in all eCommerce businesses and how many brands talk about it. When those singular grand KPIs have so many sub-KPIs underneath them that influence them, you don’t know why the conversion rate one day was at 4.5% and another day was at 3%.
You can come up with ideas but if you singularly focus on that, you’re not doing the things to help bit move in the right direction. We’re always leveraging as ways to keep track but it never tells us why. That’s when we’re leveraging qualitative data and qualitative research to indicate, “Why is this happening and what could be the reasons behind it?” Once we understand the why or get ideas about the why, that helps us inform how to improve specific quantitative metrics.
The reason I asked was more towards attribution, whether or not you are into attribution, and the impact of the ATT update and on the iOS 14, how it affected performance across the board at the middle market of D2C.
Watching what’s happened in the industry overall, it’s become hard to attribute where the sales go to. With iOS 14 and the shakeup that it’s caused, it’s been difficult to understand core market attributions. When we look at top-line revenue, we look at overall LTV, those are strong indicators of what direction things are moving and which potential pieces are helping either assist a purchase or being directly attributed to the business.
The direct attribution game is a tough place to be in because you’re singularly thinking that one thing is moving the needle. In reality, it’s always been multiple sets of assists that help create the end consumer buying experience. We, as an agency, are paying attention to more of the top-line side of things. Because of where the industry is overall with the economy of where it is, most brands are focusing toward profitability. We’re leaning more towards more of the profitability metrics and looking at channels and seeing what is at least assisting in the attribution if not directly being there from an ATT standpoint.
There’s this need for speed the bigger you get. You mentioned moving a client of yours to head list. There are also progressive web applications. Do you want to amplify the need for why readers should be paying attention to page load times and delivering a faster, speedy, and more convenient experience for customers or visitors on their website?
I’ll break it down into one simple thing, which is going back to our attention span. Since we have less attention span and most of us are using mobile devices, we have less time to interact with the consumer. The faster your site loads, the more time and sheer seconds you get with the consumer before they choose to go do something else. The site speed is important. What I would say is that what is the cost that you’re willing to spend in order for that site speed? Is there a singular solution or are there multiple solutions?
I gave a talk called Confessions of a Headless Advocate and that was a talk that is me. I was the big headless advocate and I was constantly telling people to go headless because systems like Shopify could not keep up with site speed no matter what you did. We were heavy optimizers. We cannot get that site speed down to under 1.5 seconds no matter what we did. That was in 2018 so that’s the reason why, in 2017, we took Rothy’s headless. We took Athletic Greens, Molecule, Four Sigmatic, and many others headless because it wasn’t working.
In 2023, the technology landscape changed drastically. Our agency has proven that we can get the same site speed leveraging Shopify Plus and its core theme engine and then leveraging PWAs and headless. PWAs and headless were able to do that early on and what we’ve realized is that you the TTLs, and this is going into tech, but with Shopify Plus have decreased dramatically. We are seeing that drop but we can also leverage Shopify’s own systems whether it’s their storefront URL and any system like this. They have their own APIs. We call that data back in and how you architect that front end can change how you load. You can still have a really slow-loading headless site.
Headless does not imply that it immediately becomes faster, it simply means that we’re trying to reduce the overall load on the head, which is what’s loading and making that faster. If it’s a headless site, you naturally have certain offloading that you don’t have on a typical headed system like Shopify, Magenta, BigCommerce, or any other system you might be leveraging.
That does not mean that that’s the only way. Architecture still makes the biggest difference in how you choose to architect your theme, how you choose to architect the site, and how you choose to architect your Google tag manager or your Tag system. You don’t know how many times Tag managers have caused the decrease in site load times because they have not been optimized or they’re loading many tracking pixels that you think, “I need to track this.” are you willing to do it at the expense of potentially 2 to 3 seconds of load time that are being added into the mix?
That’s correct. Architecture and technology are speeding up. Speaking of technology, artificial intelligence has been the buzzword of 2023. What are your thoughts on AI and D2C over the next 12 to 24 months?
I love what I’m seeing in AI in general, from GPT-4 to what its capabilities are doing specifically around copywriting. For eCommerce, copywriting and leveraging these AI platforms to help write better copy and more positioned copy for your brand is absolutely vital. What it can do for image and collateral creation is also helpful if it can tie into your larger story. If it’s just creating assets, it’s still not going to work. It all depends on how well it ties to the larger story.
From a collateral and content perspective, it’s doing well. From product recommendations to being able to leverage better product recommendations can be there. Sometimes brands need to think about how simple some of these things can be too. When they’re a brand that has maybe 10 products or maybe even 50 products, can the recommendation come from an actual person who knows these products better than relying on data or does it need to come from the data?
Sometimes we have to use a little bit more common sense on what we choose to leverage for both recommendation engines, personalization engines, and segmentation because we don’t need all these core big buzzwords. Even the idea of segmentation is simple, you’re taking a group of people and making them go through a site experience that’s different versus having everybody experience the same exact site.
You can create three segments. You don’t need 50 segments. You can have 3 or 4 segments and still optimize and perform well versus needing a segmentation engine or a personalization engine, which becomes difficult to implement, time-consuming, and you have no idea what the bottom line is going to be.
From an AI perspective and looping that back in, what can you make use of it now? There are a lot of great tools that are being leveraged but it has to tie into your position and your storytelling. If you’re using it as another hack, those work for startup stages when you’re going from $1 million to $5 million. When you’re going from $10 million to $20 million, $20 million to $50 million, $50 million to $100 million hundred, those hacks are what’s going to be the reason why you move upstream in the way that you did in the past.
I love that. You couldn’t have said it any better. The final question has to do with the foundations. What are the prerequisite sites you need to essentially grow, specifically in the D2C channel to all readers? What’s your sagely advice to readers?
Having repeatable and evergreen channels is vital. While we’ve all grown and seen the overall D2C market grow from paid media and through one-time campaigns, the evergreen campaigns of email, and even potentially catalogs, things that stay with you are still vital in the D2C marketing channels and subscriptions. Some of the best businesses we work with are able to consistently create revenue through their email channel, subscription engine, and great content that they’re putting out there and keeping their audiences engaged.
My biggest advice is to not be so focused and keep heavily focused purely on one-time acquisition mediums. Pay attention to those channels that if you give a little bit more love to, it’ll show you ten times back in terms of rewards. You have customers. Most of the brands that have done $10 million to $20 million have customers but they’re not paying attention to the opportunity that’s with those customers.
We can call that retention, for sure, but it’s engaging those consumers, engaging those people with those opportunities of other channels, and having repeatable channels in there. I’m still bullish on D2C. I know that B2C has gotten a lot of hits and people are starting to move away and we see brands going more wholesale and going retail route. Look at why brands went to the D2C channel in the first place. The margins were incredible at those times. You were able to scale fast. You were able to have direct access to the consumer.
Do you think that by moving to wholesale retail you’re going to be able to contain all of those things? It might be a quick win right now that you’re able to sell volume and sell over things that you’ve bought too much of and to move product. Is it going to help you keep the margins on profitability or is it going to help you scale? Is it going to help you grow into the future? To me, D2C still has that. It means that we have to look at opportunities that we didn’t see before.
The brands that did well in the early stages with Facebook and Instagram did sell but the ones that did even better were the ones that hooked them into an email strategy as well as hooked them into a subscription strategy. When the acquisition funnel tap turns off for a little bit, they still survive and they still are able to make it and still get sales. For the other ones, when that tap dries up, they’re pretty much done. That’s a reason why it’s diversifying the channels and making sure the other channels are up to par while the other paid media opportunities exist is vital to being able to grow an industry-leading brand. That’s what we love working with.
At Anatta, we work with all the top industry leaders, whether it’s brands like Mack Weldon, Rothy’s, BRUNT Workwear, Molecule, and Athletic Greens. These are all brands that have become industry leaders and the reason that they have is that they’ve diversified their channels. with their channels, they’re giving each one its due love versus giving partial love to it for a period of time, and then stepping away.
You couldn’t have said it any better. Particularly with regards to D2C, it’s a love child for consumer brands. You do build relationships in D2C, one-to-one relationships, which is super important. I like what you said pre-interview where people think, in terms of list, are you the top seven? If you’re not within their top seven list, you don’t exist. Speaking to that point, how do you stay top of mind with consumers, particularly in a crowded market like we are right now?
It does go back to where you fit into the mental model of their list. When we think about top green powders, we think of Athletic Greens. It shows up in our minds because it’s in the top three. When we think about clean beauty, we think of True Botanicals. These names come up because they’ve done the work in order to position themselves specifically in that space. The question is can you, as a brand, either position yourself in that?
If it is a competitive landscape, do you need to niche a little bit further into a positioning that you can be in the top five? If not in the top 5 or the top 7, do you have enough money to make it into the top 5 or 7? You can make it but it does require time and money. If you don’t have the time and money to be able to get there, maybe think about repositioning what you are selling and how you’re selling it. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change your product but you do have to change how you message it and position it to where it’s becoming in the top 5 or top 7.
The funniest thing is I learned this from the book that Jack Trout created called Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. The reason why we have the top seven wonders of the world or the top seven list is that human psychology is trained that we only remember up to seven. We have no idea how to remember past 7 to the 8th, 9th, or 10th. Is there another eighth natural wonder of the world? Of course, there is but it didn’t make the top seven list. It didn’t crack it so we don’t remember those things.
When we think about the best cleaners, best tissues, and all these things we have names, and we have brands that come to our mind and they exist in the top three, you have to get real with yourself as the brand owner to say, “Do you belong in that list? Will you show up on that list?” If you do not show up on that list, think about repositioning a little bit. It doesn’t mean that you can’t ever get there. If you don’t find a placement for yourself now, it’s going to be hard to make it into that stage for future growth.
I agree. It’s like with the AG1 example. Let’s say I was bringing my own new green powder. I would say, “Am I the best green powder for yoga in the yoga community?” As a focus initially. Once I conquer that, I could go into wellness and other niches before I say, “Are we the number one green powder in the country or the world?” It’s where AG1 is right now.
AG1 was not the conqueror of the best green powder years ago, there were a lot of other names that came to mind. Now they are but they did niche themselves into specific markets, dominated those markets, and then kept expanding further upstream.
There’s also the bit of trust and transcending yourself beyond performance marketing or paid media. Who are the trust nodes we can attach to that will tell the story for us? When people see our ads, they click more of our ads. When they see the landing page, they recognize those endorsers and it smoothens the flow. What you guys are doing makes it better because you are getting more data and the data is feeding into what you’re doing and you are optimizing with all that traffic you’re getting.
When you’re in the startup stages, you’re pivoting and trying a bunch of growth hack tactics out to help build trust or do things. What I see in the best teams, whether it’s with Athletic Greens or True Botanicals, they’ve all elevated their leadership teams and the teams that they have to help them think outside of the growth hack work that got them to their stage of $10 million or $20 million. Those tactics simply do not work as you keep going upstream.
Being able to have a thoughtful leadership team or a new team come in and be able to elevate and see that, “We need to keep focusing on trust. We still need to keep focusing on these things that keep the consumer engaged.” If we try to build a box builder because it’s a cool new feature or the next quiz, that in itself is devaluing the brand. I saw a note about how Allbirds has not performed well. I always look at this brand because it’s done so well in D2C. It became a public company. They’ve done excessively well. It has a D2C brand. They changed their positioning.
I’m interested in this and flabbergasted by this. They said, “We sell shoes that they’re so soft that you don’t need to wear socks.” People got people behind it. It was like, “This is such an amazing soft shoe.” Tell me why, in the last two years, they started selling socks. You think it’s another product. We can increase our AOV. We can increase these things. You pay attention to these KPIs thinking, “I want to elevate that.”
You lose the long-term positioning and messaging that you’re gaining. Once you start doing that, you lose consumer trust. If you lose consumer trust, you’ve lost pretty much all of it. At that point, you start seeing declines because consumers sniff that out and they’re incredibly smart. Understanding what things you can do to elevate the brand versus what things you can do to simply grow revenue, those two do not go hand in hand.
Revenue is for your interest and growing the brand is for the interest of people who consume the brand, consumers. I’m curious to know, selfish for myself. With your Emerging plan on your website, you start with two resources and then you start to scale up. What are the cost implications of working with an agency like yours? There are dedicated resources. They’re hires through yours. How do you work out a strategy at the level? Do you have fractional strategy executives? The strategy doesn’t need to be dedicated per se. Project managers obviously will be focused on a client. How does it work? What are the cost implications? I’m curious to know.
You hit the nail on its head. There are certain resources being dedicated that make absolute sense. UX designers and UX researchers or a combination of the resource being full-time dedicated developers, being full-time dedicated, those are the people that you need day in and day out. We offer project management and quality assurance to every team that we deploy.
You get fractional access to our creative directors and our technical leads, which are the technical architects. You also get access to our executive team. You’re getting access to our head of marketing, our head of optimization, our COO, and myself. We provide that all as fractional executives being able to see the bigger picture and be able to come in and provide that on a monthly if not quarterly basis to be able to give that level of guidance and roadmap mapping experience.
All of that combined is roughly around $40,000. $40,000 is what you’re getting on a monthly basis and you’re getting access to this designer, developer, project management, and QA, all bundled in. There is no surprise pricing. There is no additional pricing for anything else. All the executive outreach and the fractional executive resources, the creative director, and the technical aid all come encompassed at that price. You’re never seeing anything else in your billable line items from our work.
They’re in charge of your tech, essentially. That’s a line item on your P&L for not just tech but UX, UI, data, and tech.
Where things differ for us is that it’s not just the tech side, we’re coming into the optimization side. We technically hit the marketing budgets as well because when we can optimize and be able to create a lot of value, we are able to see $1 million or $2 million lifts in directions with our work on conversion rate or AOV or other metrics. Our goal is to pay for ourselves in every single engagement. There’s not a single engagement where we don’t pay for ourselves. If we don’t, we already know it’s not worth the value. It’s not just day-to-day maintenance or work but it’s around how we optimize and elevate the brand to continue to grow in the ways that it needs to.
For a $40 million brand, it’s a $500,000 expense. It makes sense. I like your business model, I have to say. Before I let you go, we have what I call a rapid-fire question segment where I ask you about 5 or 6 questions. If you could use a single sentence to answer them, you’ll be okay and then we’ll wrap up this interview.
What’s been your most meaningful business relationship in the last five years?
There are two relationships, one with Mack Weldon, and the second with a company called Team Launch. Both are such successful partnerships because of our relationship with the CEOs and also the larger team mission. Everything is aligned and we love working with them.
That’s amazing. That was fast. Are you a morning person?
I am. I also have a son so he wakes me up every day at 5:30 in the morning whether I want to or not.
What does the rest of your morning routine look like?
I start with a little bit of a light meditation when I can get it and that’s there. I’ll have my coffee. I’m a big espresso person and a coffee snob because I’ve learned how to make a proper shot of espresso. That’s my big thing and if I can get a croissant to go along with it.
Are you into sports?
I love playing sports. I love playing team-based sports when I can. I got back from a guy’s weekend with sixteen guys and all we did was play soccer, volleyball, and basketball altogether. I love playing sports. I’m not a big watcher of sports besides one sport, baseball.
What’s your favorite team?
What two things you can’t live without?
One being my family, they mean so much to me, and I need them around in my life and who they are. Also, tagging along with that is the community. I thrive in communities and friendships. Both family and community all of tying into that ability to be around people.
What book are you currently reading or listening to?
The book that I’m currently reading is Rick Rubin’s book on creativity. That’s on my shelf and I’m reading chapters of it every day.
What’s been your best mistake to date, by that, I mean a setback that’s given you the biggest feedback?
I would say is employees that I’ve retained for too long. It’s not just one mistake but it’s hundreds of ones. Over the last 15 years, I’ve hired probably close to 300 people. When I’ve known that it isn’t right for us and the employee has known that it’s not right for them to not cut ways and that same goes with clients as well. When you know it’s time, you know it’s time. Being able to say that first versus allowing it to linger. That has created relationships that I wish I could be able to get back or be able to get back into a place where I enjoyed it.
Nirav, it’s been an absolute pleasure having you on the 2X eCommerce podcast. For people who want to find out more about Anatta, it’s Anatta.io. Are you active on any social channels?
I’m active on LinkedIn so anyone can find me there.
Nirav, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you for coming on the 2X eCommerce podcast.
Thank you so much for having me. This was so much fun.